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Le Campo Vaccino

CAT 121 Claude Lorrain Campo Vaccino partial crop.jpg

CAT 122. Etched and drawn by Claude Lorrain. Le Campo Vaccino (The Roman Forum), 1636.  Fac-similé d'une eau-forte de Claude Lorrain. Reprinted from Amand-Durand’s 1875 edition, 1880s. E. Barton Chapin Jr. Family Collection.

This etching derives from a 1636 oil painting by Claude, Le Campo Vaccino, now in the Louvre. As an urban, enclosed, architectural landscape it contrasts dramatically with the fluidity and openness of the etched harbor scene. This image is rare among Claude’s landscapes in that it depicts a specific scene in its actuality, in opposition to the ideal landscapes that became the signature of his subsequent art. This image is also rare in being derived from the work of another painter, Herman Swanevelt, who was born the Netherlands but lived much of his life in Rome, where “he lived in the same house as Claude” from 1627 to 1641 (Russell 350). The Swanevelt painting from which Claude’s etching derives dates from 1631 (for Melville’s two engravings after Swanevelt see CAT 208 and 209). Claude appears to have made his etching of Le Campo Vaccino in 1636, the same year as his oil painting of the scene. He also created a drawing of the same image for his Liber Veritatis during the same year, as well as a preparatory drawing for the etching (Mannocci, no. 17, pp. 127-37; Rothlisberger, Paintings, LV 9, fig. 42, pp. 110-15).

Mannocci notes that this early etching lacks some of the technical finesse that Claude was to show only a few years later. This work has a sense of confinement less evident in most of Claude’s later work, perhaps because he is here depicting an actual landscape and also following the work of another artist. Even so, one can imagine a variety of ways in which Melville would have enjoyed his copy of this print. As an etching by Claude himself, it brought him close to the master’s actual hand. As an image of the Roman Forum, whose ruined columns and ancient arches are teeming with contemporary life and vegetation, it is a fine companion to Piranesi’s Arch of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (CAT 79). Perhaps most enjoyable, this etching gave Melville a direct vision, from two hundred years earlier, of the same urban space that he had himself strolled through soon after arriving in Rome in 1857. His journal entries for February 28 and March 1 show that “on the lower slopes of the Quirinale, leading down to the Roman Forum, Melville could see as much of Trajan’s Forum as had been cleared by the French in 1812.” Some of that space “was still covered by a clutter of huddled buildings,” but “the great column of Trajan . . . had been excavated in the sixteenth century” (NN J 107-08, 471).

Melville’s copy of Le Campo Vaccino derives from a facsimile edition of Claude’s complete etchings published by Amand-Durand in Paris in 1875. His print was not published as part of that edition, however, because it has another Claude etching (CAT 123) printed on the verso of the same sheet of paper (which on each page of the Amand-Durand edition was blank). This reprinting of two facsimile etchings on a single sheet of paper was made possible by the development of what came to be known as the “line-block” technique, a photo-mechanical process developed in France in the 1880s (for which information I am grateful to Marjorie Cohn of the Fogg Museum). Melville would have been able to compare this reprinted facsimile from Claude’s original etching with a much smaller copy of the same image in reverse, from Claude’s drawing for the Liber Veritatis (LV 9), that was reproduced in his copy of John Owen Dullea’s Claude Gellée le Lorrain, published in New York in 1887 (p. 17). Dullea’s discussion of Le Campo Vaccino indicates that Claude has taken his view “from the Capitoline Hill facing the Arch of Titus” (p. 26).